As a group, they combined to start 63 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. Fourteen times over the years, these six players were designated as starters for the team, and each either began last year’s training camp atop his positional depth chart or was acquired during the preseason with the intention of starting.
All, more than two weeks into free agency, remain unemployed.
The Steelers aren’t necessarily done on the free-agent market, but after 15 days it’s clear that by now most of their moves have been made. They kept four of their own unrestricted free agents — Chuks Okorafor, Ahkello Witherspoon, Arthur Maulet and Miles Killebrew — and added seven players since the new league year began March 16.
The three Steelers wide receivers who were UFAs have signed elsewhere (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray-McCloud and James Washington) — but none of their free agents from any other positions have. Interestingly, too, is that of the three departed receivers the label “starter” can reasonably only applied to one (Smith-Schuster).
Smith-Schuster got what functionally is only a $3.25 million, one-year deal (with the Kansas City Chiefs). That’s not much in today’s game — but it’s more than six other recent Steelers starters have gotten on the market so far.
Cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Eric Ebron, safety Terrell Edmunds, guard Trai Turner, linebacker Joe Schobert and tackle Zach Banner combined to account for roughly $33 million on the Steelers’ 2021 salary cap. The combined values of their previous contracts that either ended or were terminated this month? At hefty $119 million.
All still are looking for work in 2022.
Of the group, it would seem that only Edmunds still has a path for a return to the Steelers, the team that drafted him 28th overall in 2018. The Steelers have not addressed his position yet in free agency, and Edmunds was a reliable — if unspectacular — starter over his four seasons with the team.
But he never lived up to his first-round status, as partially evidenced by the Steelers declining a fifth-year option that would have paid him a relatively reasonable $6.75 million this season. The team might take him back at a smaller figure than that, but Edmunds’ camp surely wants to explore the market to see if he can get more. The Steelers, too, could find a more appealing safety option as the dust settles in free agency. There’s next month’s draft, too.
Haden, right guard Turner and Schobert all had their former positions filled by the Steelers in free agency by, respectively, Levi Wallace, James Daniels and Myles Jack. The Steelers also have a pair of established starters at tackle—which made the oft-injured Benner expendable via a cut last week—and tight end (making the decision to let Ebron walk an easy one).
Judging by the market (or lack thereof) for their 2021 starters the Steelers either cut or decided not to extend as free agents, it appears that by 15 days into free agency the lack of eagerness by 31 other teams to sign any of them signals the Steelers made some wise decisions.
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Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .